What's Behind the Saudi Monotheism Summit?

April 8, 2008

Author: Caryle Murphy

Source: The Pew Forum/Religion News Service


A group of visiting Japanese scholars was making a routine courtesy call recently on King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz when the monarch raised a subject that, as he put it, had "obsessed me since two years ago."

Distressed by what he described as disintegrating family ties, a rise in atheism and "an imbalance of reason, ethics and humanity," the king announced plans for a new interfaith dialogue in which "believers of the three main religions: the Torah, Bible and Quran will be of priority."

In other words, Jews, Christians and Muslims.

The proposal made headlines because of Saudi Arabia's austere, exclusivist version of Sunni Islam, which bans the open practice of all other faiths, and regards even Shiite Muslims as heretics. For the most part, this Wahhabist strain of Islam has rejected inter-religious dialogue with non-Muslim "infidels."

Abdullah's stature as "Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques" in Mecca and Medina, however, gives him some authority in religious matters. So, if as he said, the aim of the dialogue "is to request all religions to sit together with their brothers faithfully and sincerely as we all believe in the same God," something significant has occurred.